Senators seek to spur national debate on assisted suicide with proposed new law

Thwarted in his efforts to force the House of Commons to debate the issue of assisted suicide, Manitoba Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher has gone down the hall for some help.

OTTAWA — Thwarted in his efforts to force the House of Commons to debate the issue of assisted suicide, Manitoba Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher has gone down the hall for some help.

Two senators – one a Conservative, the other a Liberal – are taking over Fletcher’s bid to make physician-assisted death legal under Canadian law, introducing a bill on the subject in the upper chamber.

It’s an opportunity to spark a national debate on the contentious question – and also a chance for the Senate to burnish its tarnished reputation, Fletcher told a news conference Tuesday.

“This is an opportunity in fact for the Senate to shine, to demonstrate why the Senate is there,” said Fletcher, who became a quadriplegic after a car accident in 1996.

“They are dealing with an issue that obviously most elected representatives do not want to deal with. Moreover, I think the mere fact that it’s now going to be debated in Parliament will increase public awareness, people will have this discussion with their families around the dinner table, which will prevent a lot of heartache in the future for those families.”

Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth is introducing the bill with the support of Liberal-appointed senator Larry Campbell. Both say they believe their parties will help move it forward.

“If you know Sen. Nancy Ruth and myself, we don’t fight on hills we don’t think we can take,” Campbell said.

Ruth said her aim to have it passed through the Senate by spring and then handed over to the House of Commons.

It’s possible that the Supreme Court, which is currently studying the constitutionality of the existing ban on assisted suicide, will have weighed in on the issue by then.

But there is only so far the court will be able to go, said Dr. James Downar, who is on the advisory board for the advocacy group Dying with Dignity.

“Ultimately the Supreme Court can only strike down a bad law,” Downar said.

“It cannot write a good law, it cannot create the safeguards needed, it can’t create the oversight needed and it cannot provide the funding required to improve end of life care for all Canadians.”

The government’s reluctance to wrestle with the thorny question of assisted suicide, meanwhile, has been well documented.

“It is our government’s position that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia are in place to protect all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in our society,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said when the Supreme Court announced it would hear the appeal.

An online poll conducted for the group in August ahead of the Supreme Court hearing found a significant majority of respondents in favour of allowing a doctor to help end a person’s life, in certain circumstances.

The bill being put forward in the Senate would impose strict guidelines on those circumstances and how a request for assistance would be approved.

Among other things, it would impose a 14-day waiting period between a request being made and a doctor carrying it out.

“This bill is fundamentally about choice,” Ruth said.

“It doesn’t coerce anybody – not a physician, not a patient, not a family member, nobody. It is simply to provide a choice, another choice for Canadians, in how they choose to end their lives.”

The national association for Canadian doctors recently backed down from its long-standing opposition to against assisted death.

In August, the Canadian Medical Association changed its official policy to say it supports the idea of physicians – within the bounds of existing laws – following their conscience when asked to provide aid in dying.

Ruth said she wants to see the CMA take that discussion even further.

“The CMA is moving and this is exciting so the Senate is a good place for them to talk,” she said.

“And senators are close enough to death to want to do this,” she added, to laughter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Johnson & Johnson via AP
What you need to know about Johnson & Johnson’s approved single-dose vaccine

Canada added a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to its pandemic-fighting arsenal on Friday,… Continue reading

FILE - This March 20, 2018, file photo shows the YouTube app on an iPad in Baltimore. YouTube on Friday, March 5, 2021, said it has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube monitoring the situation for any content that might violate rules

Statistics Canada’s offices in Ottawa are shown on Friday, March 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canada posts $1.4B trade surplus for January, first surplus since May 2019

Total imports increased in January to $49.8 billion

The wreckage of a fatal crash involving a semi-truck and the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus near Tisdale, Sask., is seen on Saturday, April, 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Court to hear arguments on delay in Broncos lawsuit for proposed class action

11 lawsuits have been filed by victims and their families

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Team Canada third John Morris follows as second Carter Rycroft (right) and lead Nolan Thiessen (left) sweep his rock during round robin competition against Team Newfoundland and Labrador at the Brier curling championship, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Champions at The Brier list

Brier champions since the inception of the Canadian men’s curling championship in… Continue reading

FILE - This Jan. 22, 2013 file photo shows Martin Bashir at the EA SimCity Learn. Build. Create. Inauguration After-Party, in Washington. British police said Thursday March 4, 2021, that they will not launch a criminal investigation into the journalist Martin Bashir over his 1995 interview with the late Princess Diana. (Photo by Nick Wass/Invision/AP, File)
UK police won’t probe journalist over 1995 Diana interview

Diana’s brother alleged Bashir used false documents to convince Diana

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Most Read